More families are taking advantage of mental health services at North Allegheny, according to a report by the district’s student wellness and safety committee presented Jan. 18 to the school board.
There has been a slight, but overall, increase in the number of students utilizing Glade Run Lutheran Services since the district started its partnership with the mental health agency during the 2020-2021 school year.
“They have been a great source for our students and our families,” said Dr. Michele Dowell, NA assistant superintendent of elementary education. “I think it has been very, very favorable for our students. We have been very pleased with the services and what they are able to do. They have been a great group to work with.”
Glade Run Lutheran Services, based in Zelienople, with offices throughout the Pittsburgh area, provides on-site behavioral mental health services that promote social and emotional growth. Therapists work with NA staff, students and families, according to Dowell.
Comparing 2020-2021 to the current school year to date, the number of students using Glade Run increased from 21 to 40 at the senior high school and 20 to 41 students at the intermediate high school. At the middle schools, there was an increase from seven to 14 at Marshall, but stayed at a consistent 15 at Carson, and none yet at Ingomar.
Elementary schools receiving assistance during the same period went from no students in 2020-2021 to three in the current year at Bradford Woods; from none to 10 at Franklin; from two to 11 at Hosack; from one to six at Ingomar; from none to 12 at McKnight, and from one to two at Peebles.
Dowell said she thinks student anxiety has been the biggest increase across the board.
NA has paid for Glade Run’s services through federal covid relief funds over the last few years, but the school district will pick up the expense when covid relief funding expires, according to Dr. Joseph Scuillo, NA assistant superintendent of secondary education.
Dr. Melissa Friez, superintendent for North Allegheny School District, said she feels more families are comfortable reaching out to the district for services because the stigma once attached to mental health support is diminishing.
Friez said addressing these needs now will provide students with coping skills when they get older.
The district also uses UPMC behavioral health services, funded through Allegheny County, to assist with student behavior and health needs, according to Sciullo. The program is for any student identified as engaging in behavior that endangers the health, safety, and welfare of themselves or others.
The district is working with another new provider, Pittsburgh-based Human Services Administration Organization, to help with drug and alcohol education, he said.
NA is applying for $225,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to fund help staff recognize mental health and behavioral cues in students having issues. The grant would help provide a youth mental health first aid program, crisis prevention intervention de-escalation and restraint training.
The district is seeing uptick of students with multiple infractions, according to school spokesperson Brandi Smith.
Usually issues end after intervention following the first infraction, Sciullo said, but the district is seeing more second and third infractions, which can lead to a suspension of sometimes 20 to 30 days. The middle schools are reaching out to administration for help.
“That’s just new territory we’re seeing as a trend a lot in middle schools which is still a time to do something about it,” Sciullo said.
Instead of just issuing lengthy suspensions, North Allegheny would like to correct behavior, not just punish misbehavior and rule-breaking, according to the district’s strategic plan.
Techniques include talking to students about their actions and outcomes. Teachers get guidelines on how to handle classroom disruptions or behavioral problems.
The goal is to have fewer suspensions, Friez said.
“Our goal is to re-imagine that before it becomes an issue,” she said. “We do have students who make choices that are very challenging and we want to make sure we’re prepared for that.”
NA has partnered with McCandless police, which has social service programs with a goal of keeping disruptive students out of the court system.
Natalie Beneviat is a Trib Total Media contributing writer.